Craziness. Is there another word for what we’re experiencing? Total upheaval of our norms. Nothing feels right. Inquisitive minds look for answers where few are found. This is the long game. Today I’m lending my voice to a small fraction of those most impacted...our students.
From Advanced Placement students, who find themselves staring down the barrel at AP Exams with fractured instruction during the most vital home stretch of the Spring Semester, to the Senior Class of 2020--even to the grades below them, who will face a gap in their learning for a considerable time--you are our children and our future. I hope my words can be a sort of balm in the upset.
During these trials, I continue to reminisce on two particular moments from my military service: The Gas Chamber, and The Final Run.
The Gas Chamber: Army boot camp on gas chamber day. Approximately 25 of us went into the chamber at a time. We’d been warned that if anyone acted out of turn, we’d rinse and repeat the hands-on experience. Don’t you know, it was my luck to be in a bunch that did it twice. Why not just send the errant soldier back in with the next group? Why was the collective punished for the actions of the one? Looking back it doesn’t matter; what does is the understanding I took away from the experience.
We, the twenty-five of us, were in that gas chamber together, for better or for worse.
A singular flaw caused serious repercussions.
We might not have liked it, but we survived it...together.
If I had been told back then, when snot poured from every orphus possible that I’d find a silver lining, I would have scoffed. That gas chamber shaped me though. It taught me I could get through unfair and challenging circumstances. And it’s been a tangible lesson I’ve had the privilege of sharing with my students year after year.
The Final Run: It was the morning of my last run during military job training. By then I was inseparable from my sisters-in-arms. We were family and this was going to be our last day together before moving on to permanent duty stations. Our run would be over 3 miles. There were eight of us, filling in the first two ranks of a large formation. Some of us still weren’t sure we could make the run, others had overcome personal and physical hardships in the time we’d spent together and were confident in their abilities. We chose our pace-setter and stepped lively as the Drill Sergeant led out.
Our cadence was one of unison. Pride swelled. We had learned to move as a unit. But it was hot and we were over the three-mile mark. Our lungs were tight and legs were burning. There was no indication that our Drill Sergeant was ready to turn back. One sister cried out from behind us, “I can’t.” We roared back, “You can!”
From the corner of our eyes, we could see our sister’s struggle. In an unprecedented move, those of us in the front rank clasped arms, signaling to our sisters in the second rank to do the same. They linked together, strong and proud, and pulled our struggling friend to pace. With arms linked, we sent a message loud and clear:
We’re finishing this together!
This scene is one of the most beautiful moments of my young life.
COVID-19 has been like a nasty gas chamber, choking us out and crippling our focus. And the elongated quarantine is us going through it twice with no end in sight. In the thickness of this gas-filled cloud of smoke, reach out to each other, clasp your friends by their arms, and hold you steady.
You are enough! You are strong and bold, qualified for this hardship by the work you’ve put in. This isn’t how it should be, but it’s the challenge in front of us that we can face. You can, and will do this.
To the AP Students, think back to the greats of history, the ones who faced insurmountable odds and achieved their purposes anyways. Stand tall, lean into your peers, engage with the skills teachers have been tossing at you.
For the graduating Class of 2020, raise your voices! This is your moment, be a collective that can’t be stopped. Rise up and when the doors fling wide, show this world the quality of your grit and determination.
And to all those precious babies who are missing a vital piece, you are seen. Educators will be there and fill in the gap, one lesson at a time.
In all the years since my military service, I’ve kept a sheet of paper printed with rules from General Colin Powell, who says:
It isn’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
Get mad, and then get over it.
Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls your ego goes with it.
It can be done!
Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
Check small things.
Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
Have a vision. Be demanding.
Remain calm. Be kind.
General Powell’s words have guided me in some of the most challenging days of my life. I hope they’ll do the same for you.
Hang in there, people.
I love you,